Monday, January 31, 2005

I get to be on television again. Cuní's producer called me and asked if I can show up tomorrow for the TV3 morning debate program, so I will. We'll be on sometime after 10 AM. If you go to TV Catalunya's website you can at the very least listen to it live. After this one (it'll be the fourth time on that program) I'm going to positively demand a spot on "Gran Hermano VIP". I figure I've already had my fifteen minutes. Everybody else on that program has already had his fifteen minutes, too, so I'll fit right in.
La Vanguardia's headline today is "Iraqis vote en masse despite suicide attacks". The subheads are "High turnout on day with 40 dead caused by violence" and "Bush states elections are success of his policy and defeat of terrorism". I guess that's fair enough.

Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro has to admit that even the NGOs and international commissioners agreed that the elections were legitimate, that voter turnout was at least 60%, and that it was very high in the Kurdish and Shiite zones. He does lay heavy emphasis on low turnout in Sunni Arab areas, though I read somewhere that none of the 18 Iraqi provinces had a turnout under 50%. T.T. even says that Adnan Pachachi and Carlos Valenzuela from the UN agreed that turnout in Sunni areas had been higher than expected. He's still reporting from Beirut, though.

Alfredo Abián turns loose in the signed page two editorial.

...The future of Iraq is not predictable, but its conversion into an Islamic republic appears more and more likely, over which Iran will have a certain influence. The sarcasm of history is that this ends up happening by Bush's hand. But the great tragedy would be if neither yesterday's nor future elections served for anything, and if the Sunni minority became stuck in a civil war with the Shiites, to the great satisfaction of Bin Ladenism.

Why so negative, Alf? Seems to me the Iraqis done had themselves an election. Why does that mean they're going to become an Islamic republic, and why does that mean the Iranian government, which IS increasingly disliked by the Iranian people (if you don't believe me go read the Iranian bloggers) is going to influence the new democratic Iraq? Wouldn't you figure that, say, the Americans, Brits, and Aussies are most likely to be influential over the new government, for extremely logical reasons, since it was those countries that made it possible for the new democracy to exist?

La Vanguardia actually has a guy on the ground in Baghdad, Gervasio Sánchez (who I think is a free-lance), who says he actually went out and walked through Baghdad yesterday. He's got a photo of security guards patting down a voter outside the Nadamia elementary school in the Sadun neighborhood, which he says is mixed. He quotes a local voter as saying "We Iraqis are very strong and aren't afraid of bombs," and he comments, "That seems to be true." Someone else said, "We came to vote to put an end to our tragedy and bombs will not stop us." Another said, "I'm seventy years old and I've never seen a day like this," and his wife said, "I'm only afraid of God." A woman said, "I have ink all over my finger but I'm not afraid of the insurgents' reprisals." An 84-year-old woman, who came to the polling place pushed by her family in a street cart, said, "All my life I've had to vote for the dictator Saddam Hussein and now I can vote for my people...I'm voting so that the sun can come out in this beaten-down country." Sánchez calls her statement "pure poetry", and he's not being ironic. The guy in charge of the polling station said, "90% will come out to vote and if the other 10% are scared, we don't need them...actually, we'll be happy if half those registered vote." According to Sánchez, the polling station closed down at 5 PM local time. 1433 people had voted, nearly 50% of the census. Nice reporting work, though he does include his opinion a few times and this is a news piece. Fire some of those other dopes like Tikrit Tommy and give this guy a steady job. Hey, Trevor, out there at Barcelona Reporter, offer him a weekly column.

Meanwhile, everyone over here from Kofi Annan to the French government is at the very least pretending to be all thrilled, including the German government, the Vatican, Javier Solana, and the Zaptists.

Then on page 6 there's Beirut Bob Fisk. What a pathetic windbag. Does anyone pay attention to this guy except a bunch of ex-hippies now in government service and the less prestigious universities?

ETA left a backpack bomb outside a hotel in Dénia down near Alicante; it did minor damage and slightly wounded one person. They called it in first and the cops got the place evacuated; the guests were all British retired people.

It's winter food time in Catalonia, and that means xató and calçots. Xató is a salad that includes three obligatory ingredients, escarole, salt cod, and romesco sauce. It often contains olives, tuna, or onion, and it's often served with an omelet. Romesco sauce is spicy and reddish; it's usually got roast peppers and roast tomatoes in it, and may have chopped nuts, too. You're supposed to drink a bunch of cheap red Penedés wine, too. Calçots are these long leeklike onions that you roast over an open fire until they're almost burned on the outside; then you pull down on the bottom of the calçot and if you know how to do it, the skin slides right off and you then dip the roasted leeklike thing in romesco sauce. And you drink the cheap red Penedés wine. The sauce for calçots is usually nuttier and not as spicy as the sauce for xató, though they're pretty much the same thing. Calçots are generally thought to originate in Valls and xató is claimed by several coastal towns, including El Vendrell, Sitges, and Vilanova i el Geltrú. The calçot-xató heartland, between Barcelona and Tarragona, is also curiously the heartland of the castellers, those guys who build thirty-foot human towers, and not infrequently the whole thing comes crashing down.

My wife Remei is from the inland edge of this region, and her family does both calçots and xató at home when they're in season. That area of Catalonia where she's from, right on the edge between the Lérida and Tarragona zones of influence, is probably not coincidentally the part of Catalonia I like the best. I also think the castellers and the calçots are just about the coolest local customs, along with listening to habaneras and drinking queimada, eating roasted chestnuts and nut cakes (panellets) and drinking moscatel, eating turrón (like almond brittle) and drinking cava, and watching soccer and drinking beer. There's also that old standby, hanging around the local bar and trying to get in the dominoes game.

I just noticed that all my favorite local activities except the castellers involve drinking, and I'll bet some of the casteller guys have had a few shots off the porrón, too.

Dumb supposedly traditional Catalan activities: Sardanas. Boring and the bands hurt my ears. Parades of giants (these huge ancient papier-mache figures). Boring. Correfocs. Phony (a newly-invented alleged tradition) and dangerous, besides being noisy. Burning suspected Jews and heretics at the stake. No, hey, wait, that's actually pretty cool, at least if you were King Martí the Humanist. The populace generally approved of an occasional Jew-flambeéing and on occasion demonstrated great enthusiasm.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Get this story from Televisió de Catalunya's website today.

World Social Forum calls two days of demonstrations against the American occupation of Iraq

The World Social Forum has called out to social movements around the world to demonstrate on March 19 and 20 against the American occupation of Iraq. This call was made from Porto Alegre, in Brazil, at the summit of the social movements, where for the last five days representatives from those movements from around the world have been meeting. The World Social Forum will close this Monday with a summary of this convention.

Emir Sadr, an intellectual from the movement against globalization, recalled the strength of the demonstrations of March 15 last year.

Pakistani Tariq Ali, one of the best-known contemporary Marxist ideologues, was also present at this fifth edition of the Porto Alegre Social Forum, and celebbrated the resistance that the Iraqi people is showing against the United States military occupation.

For five days dense ideological debates have been held in order to define how "another possible world" can be constructed, and tomorrow the organizers will sum up the convention.

What a bunch of dopes, starting with the idiot who filed this story and including the idiot who posted it on the TV3 website and all the other idiots who wasted a lot of time, money, and energy at the Porto Alegre wankfest. These dopes spend five days holding dense ideological debates about Marxist hydro-anal stimulation techniques when there is actually work to be done. Oh, sorry, the US Navy is busy doing that. And the Iraqi police and every Iraqi voter went out and did that today. And, despite all the bitching we do about the Catholic Church, they will be busy doing that too. Unlike the dopes in Porto Alegre.
I've been looking around the Internet for information on the Iraqi elections, and the polls have closed. There are conflicting reports on the turnout, but different sources are saying it was somewhere between 60% and 75% of eligible voters, which is pretty damn good. I would say that's ample proof that the people of Iraq want a democratic government. Probably most of those people who voted would like to see the Americans go home now. Fair enough, I'd like to see us go home now, too. I imagine we will a year or so from now after the terrorists have been completely defeated in the Sunni Triangle; it seems that despite the occasional outbreak of violence, the rest of the country is pretty calm.

Of course, if the Europeans want to help, they could send some neutral politically correct troops to replace our mean nasty combat guys as we pull them out, assuming danger subsides as I expect it will. Naah, why would they want to be responsible?

They are saying that 35 people have been murdered and that nine suicide bombers have taken the quick road to hell; I hope each of them gets seventy-two virgin Divines for the rest of eternity.
You know relations between the Spanish central government and the Church are at an all-time low when Alfrdo Abián devotes his page two signed editorial in La Vanguardia to the subject on the day of the Iraqi elections. (La Vanguardia is considered to be closer to the Church than any other Catalan paper.) The Zap government and the Church have been wrangling for a good little while now on the question of whether religion should be an obligatory subject in the public schools and, if so, whether it should be graded and count as part of a student's total grade-average or not.

Iberian Notes, which is sympathetic toward what we view as basically honest mainstream religious groups like the Catholic Church, is nonetheless with the Zaptists on this one: if it's a 100% Church school, fine, religion can count for whatever they want it to, and that goes for whatever other religion wants to set up a school, too. If it's a 100% public school, though, no religion should be indoctrinated. Of course, religion will come up in classes like history and literature and philosophy, but it shouldn't be interpreted from merely one point of view. And if it's one of those "concerted schools", which are Church schools subsidized by the government, from what I can tell, then I figure it's fair enough to make Catholic religion an optional subject that shouldn't count for a real grade.

So, anyway, this fight has blown up into a mild controversy. Some elements of the Spanish Church, a few days ago, announced that they thought it was OK to use condoms. I have no idea what their motive was. The Pope slapped them down right away, of course, and they immediately recanted. The Pope then went on to say that he thought Spanish society was becoming too secular and pretty much called the Zap government on the carpet in order to lecture them for a while. Among the things the Pope mentioned was, of all things, the damn water plan that the Aznar government rammed through against Catalan and Aragonese opposition and that the Zapsters threw out the window right after they precipitatedly pulled out of Iraq. The Pope is for the water plan. I don't have the slightest idea why. So the Socialists and the anticlerical left and some of the Sardàesque late-night TV clowns have been bagging on the Church in general and the Pope in particular for being old-fashioned, out of touch, etc., etc. La Vanguardia is quick to remind them that nine million Spaniards go to mass every Sunday, which figure strikes me as correct because it would mean a little less than a quarter of the population, and that two million kids go to some kind of Catholic school, which is a hell of a lot, at least a third of those who are school-age, I'm guessing.

The Vangua's headline, though, is "Iraq votes today in fear amidst full offensive of attentats". Gee, which angle on the story do you think they're pushing?

Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro reports from safe at home in Beirut,

Baghdad, crushed by the dusty smog, with its streets deserted, under a curfew and patrols by occupying troops and soldiers of the provisional government, faces today's elections in Iraq with fear in its guts (entrañas). Election eve closed with fourteen dead, the victims of various attentats.

Secret, almost clandestine, are the names of the candidates; unknown, until the last few hours, the locations of the polling places; dangerous, the roads that the voters must take in order to deposit their ballots...The all-powerful American ambassador John Negroponte assured that both in the "Kurdish country" and in the "southern Shiite country", in 14 of the 18 provinces of this drifting republic, the atmosphere is one of relative order, unlike the predominantly Sunni provinces, shaken without pause by guerrilla actions. But 40% of the Iraqi population lives in that territory.

...Despite all the security measures imposed in the country, with the prohibition on traveling from one province to another, whith the Baghdad airport closed for several days, a dozen attacks were committed against polling places as well as against the US embassy in Baghdad...Of all these actions, the most serious, because of its symbolism, is without doubt that against the American headquarters, right in the heart of Baghdad. According to confirmations by the diplomatic legation, at least two Americans died and another four were wounded as the consequence of an attack with mortar grenades.

...The panic against deadly attacks and attentats, above all in areas of Sunni population, is causing Iraqies to flee from the ballot boxes. The possibility that suicide bombers might infiltrate among the voters, who would blow themselves up and create mass butchery, is a spine-chilling perspective. Last June the transfer of powers between the American administrator, Paul Bremer, and the provisional government, was advanced two days--a secret, almost shameful ceremony--in order to escape the announced catastrophes.

It is not easy for the Sunnis, who have dominated Iraq until now, to resign themselves to the political darkness before the expected victory of the Shiites. the violence will not stop, and it may even intensify, after this election which the Americans want to make historic, extracted with forceps. The day has not yet arrived in which the fourteen million potential voters can decide in Iraq.

You know, it surprises me how Tikrit Tommy knows so many details of what's really going on in Baghdad if his story is datelined Beirut. Also, I'll bet you can guess the answers Tikrit Tommy would give to these two questions: "Are these elections legitimate?" and "Who do you hope wins the war?" I don't think T.T. has been reading Chrenkoff. By the way, I love the pulling-a-baby-out-with-the-forceps metaphor.

Xavier Batalla cocks a snide little snook:

But now that democratization has become the main dish on the menu, Iraq won't be Bush's last test. Now, when allies like Putin, the president of Russia, or Musharraf, his equivalent in Pakistan, perform their habitual affronts to (note: this is a euphemism for "shit on") the democratic system, Bush will have to explain what he meant when he said that the United States did not believe that "imprisoned dissidents prefer their chains".

That's the habitual last resort of the anti-American, pointing that sometimes the United States does not live up to its own rhetoric. I can't deny it's a legitimate point. I do not especially like American support for such regimes as Putin's and Musharraf's, and even less regimes like that of the Saudis. Here's the point, though, and I am paraphrasing George Orwell here. At least the Americans are conscious of what their rhetoric means and attempt to take it seriously, though they often fail and are never completely perfect. The Americans (and the Brits and Aussies and the rest of the Anglosphere) at least have the decency to feel ashamed when raison d'etat forces us to compromise our principles. In addition, when principles must be compromised, the Americans and Brits and Aussies are pretty good at picking the lesser evil; better Musharraf or Putin than what might be running Pakistan or Russia with its hands on nuclear weapons. Better Pinochet or Franco or the Greek colonels or the South Vietnamese regime than anarchy or the Soviets, and, if we have to choose, as we did, better the Soviets than the Nazis. Better imperfect democracy and incomplete rule of law than totalitarianism.

Oh, by the way, there's a photo of two American soldiers hanging up a sign, apparently in an Iraqi polling place, that says "In case of attack move to basement or stay in your room" in English and Arabic. La Vanguardia translated it in the photo caption as "In case of attack move to most secure area of Baghdad (the Green Zone) or stay in your room". Terrific translation of "basement" there; I'm glad whoever's responsible wasn't on the scene there. I can just imagine: "There's an attack! What do we do?" "Why, flee the building, of course, and run down the streets with no protection through bomb blasts and sniper fire to the Green Zone, wherever that is! Or, wait, we could stay in our rooms."

Beirut Bob Fisk gets all of page six, I won't bother translating it, but just remember that the Vanguardia presents Beirut Bob to its readers as a reliable source. That should tell you about the journalistic standards that reign around here.

That's enough for today, but we'll be back later on with more journalistic atrocities!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

FC Barcelona just beat up on Sevilla, both literally and figuratively, 0-4 in the Sánchez Pízjuan. Sevilla is already yelling "we wuz robbed" with some justification. Damn, this Barça team is good, though. It was a rough game on both sides. Sevilla is known as a team that deals in "leña", literally "wood"; that is, they habitually play more in the style of a bunch of lumberjacks than that of artistes du balon. This evening, when necessary, Mr. Carles Puyol and Mr. Rafa Márquez chopped some timber for our boys in blue, and it's one reason Barça won. Rikjaard made much of his name in Italy, remember, and his teams are going to have a solid defense. I was watching Barça's defense during the first half, and Sevilla was fired up and coming at them. It seemed like every single play, though, Puyol or Oleguer would be in position to do something. This is not a dumb team. Their defense works because the guys are where they're supposed to be and they can then take advantage when the play comes to their position.

Barça's defense had a little help from the ref. In the first half, Puyol took down a Sevilla player in the area and there was no call. Fair enough. That one was questionable. Then, defending on a Sevilla corner kick, Belletti quite obviously knocked the ball away with his hand, right up high in the air there in front of Jesus and his mom and everybody but the ref. That one was not questionable. That was a penalty. Meanwhile, Barcelona was making some plays, setting up passes, and they had a couple of chances at goal themselves.

Sevilla was looking a little burned out by the end of the first half, and when the teams came back on Rikjaard pulled Belletti out and put in Albertini, who showed every sign of being a professional football player, leaving Barça with a three-man defense of Puyol, Oleguer, and Sylvinho with Albertini playing in front of them. Albertini can deal out the leña pretty well, it appears. Looks like this more offensive positioning by the Barça worked because Ronaldinho slid a pass through the Sevilla defense in the 49th minute and Etoo charged past the goalie and skilfully tapped it in at like an eighty-degree angle. Right after that Sevilla's star forward, Baptista, defending against a Barcelona corner, headed it into his own net and it was all over, 0-2. That pretty much finished off the Sevilla players. Then Ronaldinho went up for a header with a Sevilla defender and they bumped heads; the Sevilla guy was knocked out and concussed and everyone was very relieved when he was able to look up, open his eyes, and move his head. That was it. A little later Ronaldinho chipped in a rebound off a Sevilla defender and it was 0-3, and late in the game Ronaldinho slid another long pass diagonally across the field and Giuly (the shortest player in the League at 1 meter 64, just under five foot six) drove it home for 0-4.

It was a convincing second half, it certainly was, and the first half wasn't too bad either. At the end of the first half the TV3 announcers were saying that a 0-0 tie would be an acceptable result, that taking a point home from a match with the team in fourth place is pretty good. Sevilla certainly collapsed quickly when Barcelona put the pressure on them, though, because those first three Barça goals happened in pretty quick succession. The funniest announcer on the TV3 broadcast is Sergi Albert, who is some kind of technical expert whose job it is to critique the referee's calls. Needless to say, if Albert himself were making the calls Barcelona would win every game 7-0 and the other team would have four guys get red-carded.
I've been fooling around writing this screwball alternate history based on the Europa Universalis II game I'm playing. Here's the link if you want to see it; I'm up to the 1450s.

Before anyone gets indignant, I will have made fun of every nationality and religion imaginable before this thing is done, so don't get mad at me if I insulted your group in this fantasy historical satire, OK?
This evening Remei and I went with Big T from Kazakhstan to see Buddy Miller, the country-rock-blues-gospel guy, do a show. It was really very good; his originals, most of which I hadn't heard, are excellent, and he has good taste in covers, with a killer electric live version of "With God on Our Side" that lasted about eleven minutes. Miller has a great voice and plays mean guitar, electric and acoustic, in several different styles. I liked the drummer a lot as well, and the other two guys were just fine. Miller is a very congenial fellow; he establishes rapport with his audience. The show was maybe a little rough, but I think that they wanted it that way, and it was the first show of the tour, so obviously they haven't settled into the groove yet. If you go to his website you can check out his new stuff, and if he comes to your town go see him play. (Yes, I know what his politics are. All he said on stage was that "With God on Our Side" was relevant today, which is fair enough.)

The news around here is it's still cold, the damn tow truck drivers are postponing their strike until Semana Santa when they can really screw things up good, only 36% of Spaniards are going to turn out to vote in the referendum on the EU constitution though 56% of those polled say they're in favor of it, up in the Carmelo this whole apartment building fell in this enormous hundred-foot-deep hole created by digging for the expansion of the subway (fortunately, nobody was hurt; they were able to evacuate, with plenty of warning, over 800 people), and Barça plays Sevilla tomorrow night in the Sánchez Pízjuan on free TV so I don't have to (have to, he says, it's such an awful chore, I just hate it) go down to Pierre the Cameroonian's bar to watch it illegally on pay-per-view. Also, Oscar the little black cat barfed on the living room floor.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Victor Davis Hanson agrees with me about the Matthew Parris article I fisked a few days ago. Here's the link.

Well, it's not like he agrees with me personally, but we did reach similar conclusions after reading Parris's piece.

It's cold. I have the heater on and made sure to get an extra tank of butane. The cats are in sort of a catpile in front of the heater. Remei's spending the night at her mother's--she does that a couple of times a week now, since my mother-in-law can't exactly live all by herself--somebody's got to mop the floor and bring home the heavy shopping--but isn't exactly stuck in bed all day, either. She gets out enough to walk the dog, though Remei and I are both afraid the dog's going to pull her down one of these days, buy her daily loaf of brown bread, and that kind of thing. My job is to hold down the home fort and make sure there's some food on the table when Wifey gets home. Rosa spends an occasional afternoon over here--I put on some jazz or some Western swing, which she likes, and she plays with the cats.

Tonight I cooked up a pot of pinto beans--my recipe, soak the beans for a few hours, add an onion and whatever you have in the way of fresh peppers, several cloves of garlic, a stalk of celery, half a can of crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, oregano. Cook for an hour or so until beans are done--and some rice--my recipe, slice up an onion, some peppers, a carrot or two, some garlic, saute it up in olive oil, then add three cut-up tomatoes, saute it some more, add a splash of this absolutely evil Vietnamese chili sauce I've got, dump in one cup rice and saute it some more so the flavor gets in the rice, add 1/2 can drained peas mostly to add some green color to the red peppers and tomatoes and the orange carrots, add a good splash of vinegar and two and a half cups water, bring it to a boil and then let simmer 15-20 minutes until rice is done and water steamed away. It's really pretty good. Eat them together.
Here's the last paragraph from a Christopher Hitchens article in Slate. I'm still not sure whether Hitchens is really one of us, but he sure talks like one of us these days. Note he can't resist slamming the CIA. Anyway, go read it all.

The extraordinary and undeniable thing is that, in a country that was dying on its feet and poisoning the region a couple of years ago, there is now a real political process that has serious implications for adjacent countries. The way back to Baathism and personal despotism is blocked, and the task of the clerical fanatics is in the long run an impossible one. (Ask yourself: When was the last time you read about Muqtada Sadr's supposedly unstoppable "Mahdi Army"?) Crudely but firmly, the coalition forces are meanwhile acting as the militia for those who have no militia. Whatever happens next week, this is some cause for pride.

I think this election is going to work out, too, if only because the great majority of the Iraqis are against the terrorists.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

La Vanguardia is reporting that Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's elected dictator, is going to permit Cuban government agents to "investigate, arrest, and interrogate" Cubans in Venezuela. Opposition leader Julio Andrés Borges of the Justice First party said "This agreement means a cession of sovereignty and it violates the Venezuelan extradition law by permitting Cubans to make arrests in our country and transfer them to Cuba, with no limit on the nationality of those investigated. Cuba will be able to investigate, arrest, confiscate property, and transfer to Cuba citizens of any nationality." Cuba has been sending "volunteers", doctors and teachers, to Venezuela, and many of them have deserted. There are also some 30,000 Cuban dissidents and refugees living in Venezuela. Even Venezuelan citizens "whose actions might be considered attacks on Cuban security or sovereignty" or who are wanted by the Castro government could be affected--arrested, deported, and locked up in the Castro gulag.

If this Venezuela crap goes about one step farther I vote we get their Army to overthrow this clown and then call some honest elections. If one person is deported from Venezuela to Cuba under this alleged law, which is clearly against the Venezuelan constitution, that should be the trigger. What's the point of having a CIA if we're going to allow this shit to go on? And if Chávez ends up like Allende so much the better, but I'll bet he goes down like Saddam.

They're having another one of those endless, meaningless "alternatives to globalization" (that is, anti-American and anti-Western) festivals down in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Check out this list of international buffoons who are going to show up: José Saramago, Eduardo Galeano, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, Gilberto Gil, Manu Chao, Leonardo Boff, Mario Soares, Ignacio Ramonet, Lula da Silva, and Hugo Chávez himself. Where's José Bové? In jail, I hope. They're going to struggle against "patriarchical capitalism". Just ignore them, which I think everyone outside Latin America and Latin Europe is doing.

Judge Baltasar Garzón has indicted 36 members of ETA's political branch, Herri Batasuna or whatever they're calling themselves this week, as members of a terrorist organization. Good. Lock them up and throw away the key. Unfortunately, it'll probably be five years before the case even gets to court. Garzón's indictment points out that since 1977 ETA has carried out over 8000 terrorist attacks, in which more than 800 people died and more than 1400 were wounded, not to mention over 3500 riots and civil disturbances (kale borroka), and has cost the Basque Country more than 90 billion euros in expenses and lost investments, 100 billion if you're counting from 1970.

Bush's "hook 'em Horns" hand gesture at the Inauguration has been amply commented upon, with a bunch of idiots around these parts claiming that he was making an obscene gesture at them and a bunch of idiots in Scandinavia claiming it's a heavy metal Satanic sign. The answer is quite simple: Bush made the hand sign when the University of Texas Longhorns marching band passed by. That particular gesture, with the index and pinky fingers held up, is certainly offensive in Spain; it means you're a cuckold--but in Texas it means you support the Longhorns football team and the university in general. The gesture has no obscene meaning in the Anglosphere. Of course, Bush was not in Spain, he was in Washington, and his hand sign is completely meaningless except as support for the flagship university of his home state.

In 2004 in Barcelona there were, reported to the police, about 5000 muggings, 2000 armed burglaries, 4000 armed robberies in places of business, 5000 car thefts, more than 10,000 thefts from cars, and more than 16,000 just plain thefts without violence. Of those arrested, 83% were set free and 10% were jailed; 7,268 were Spaniards and 10,796 were foreigners wanted for crimes. An additional 5000 illegal immigrants, who had not committed crimes, were also arrested. Of course, they don't really count. 542 arrested individuals are habitual criminals; they were arrested at least four times in the year 2004, an average of six times each. 19% are Moroccan, 19% are Algerian, and 16% are Bosnian.

I don't give a rat's ass about the Academy Awards. I find it incredible that such a blatant example of industry marketing is actually taken seriously by anyone.

In soccer news, last weekend Barcelona trounced the very weak Racing of Santander 3-0 in the Camp Nou, with goals by their three superstars, Etoo, Ronaldinho, and Deco. They maintain their seven-point lead over Real Madrid. Meanwhile, they've signed two players, midfielder Albertini from Atalanta, who came for free, and forward Maxi López, who they bought from River Plate for six million euros. Neither is going to start, but both will be used regularly to spell other players who desperately need some rest. Barça will now have a lineup that looks like this: Goalie Valdés, defenders Belletti, Puyol, Oleguer, and Van Bronckhorst, midfielders Xavi, Márquez, and Deco, and forwards Giuly, Etoo, and Ronaldinho. Their men on the bench will be Albertini and López, as well as defenders Sylvinho and Navarro and midfielder Iniesta. It's been suggested that Albertini should replace Márquez in midfield, and Márquez should move back to defense replacing young Oleguer, but I don't buy it. I'd rather have Oleguer, whose career is going to be all uphill from here, in the starting eleven than old man Albertini. No knock on Albertini, but he should be playing twenty minutes a game, not ninety. The guy who is going to be hurt is Iniesta, who has until now been first man off the bench when he hasn't been an emergency starter. Again, I'd continue using Iniesta as much as possible, since he's another young player whose career is going to be all uphill. You have to get these guys some top-level experience, and there's no better time to do that than a season in which you have a comfortable lead. I would also like to see Navarro get more playing time.

I find it interesting that Barça has signed so many white Brazilians--Belletti, Sylvinho, Edmilson (currently injured), Motta (also injured), and Deco, who appears to be part-Indian but not part-black. The only black Brazilian on the team is of course Ronaldinho. Barça has had black Brazilian players before--Giovanni, Geovanni, Anderson, and of course Ronaldo and Rivaldo, so I don't think they're being intentionally racist here. I've just never seen so many white Brazilian guys on one soccer team.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The big news from here in B-ville is that it's cold. There's a high-pressure system over the British Isles, producing clockwise winds, and a low-pressure system over Italy, producing counter-clockwise winds. This combination is basically sucking the cold air out of northern Europe and Russia, and the winds are coming in hard. Normally this time of year in Barcelona high temperatures are around 55-60 Fº and lows are around 50 or so. Yesterday the temperature fell some twenty degrees in seven hours. We're expecting lows near freezing over the next three or four days, with highs in the upper thirties. Unfortunately for the ski resorts in the Pyrenees, this is dry continental air and it's not bringing any snow with it.

I can hear you people in New Hampshire saying "What's this joker whining about now? We'd go out in shirtsleeves if it were 40 Fº around here." Yeah, but the deal is in New Hampshire you're prepared for the cold, because it's normal, but here we're not, because it only happens every few years. People don't have central heating. We use butane space heaters. The buildings are made of brick and they're not insulated, and the windows are single-pane. Besides, Barcelona is a humid city because it's on the coast; we don't get much precipitation, twenty inches or so a year, but the humidity is always high. In addition, they don't sell too much really warm clothing around here; there's a lot of stuff that looks like nice thick wool but it usually isn't, it's acrylic or polyester. All of this makes perfect sense 99% of the time, of course, since it's dumb to prepare for very rare occasions like a cold wave when there are a lot of more urgent things to take care of.

There was a stink a few days ago about the Church; seems that a bunch of Catholic bishops decided that condoms were OK. The very next day they were instructed in no uncertain terms to recant this heresy, and they immediately did so. Now the Pope has jumped in with both feet and is instructing the faithful to listen to him, not the damn bishops.

The other stink going on now is that a couple of days ago Defense Minister José Bono and Socialist apparatchik Rosa Díez were pushed around and verbally abused at an Association of Victims of Terrorism demonstration in Madrid. I am, of course, appalled. Such behavior is just plain wrong, and I condemn it. The press is going into hysterics about how there's an outbreak of the old far-right that's coming to get us all.

The press is full of shit, as usual. As nasty as this incident was, it's one incident. I do not recall similar hysterics about the continued mob violence of the old and new far left; let's remember that at the anti-war demos there was open rioting and sacking of shops, that every two or three months the squatters in Barcelona riot and normally do serious physical damage to the police, that mobs of exalted leftist thugs surrounded the PP headquarters in Madrid after the March 11 bombing and put everyone there in fear for their lives, that squatters and skinheads regularly fight it out on the streets of my neighborhood, Gracia, and that PP candidates in Catalonia are routinely attacked at public occasions. I have also not seen such press hysteria regarding the wave of soccer racist violence.

By the way, the Association of Victims of Terrorism is a long-existing group that unites the families of victims of the ETA. It has no relation with Pilar Manjón, the Communist leader of the association of victims of the March 11 bombing, which is going to go the way of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo--from justified outrage, loss, and tragedy to unjustified pure left-wing hate.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Well, I went on TV3 again this morning; the makeup woman remembered me. It went fairly well, I thought. I honestly think they framed the debate badly, with the question "Is it justified at any cost to impose democracy?" with relation to President Bush's speech. What I wanted to say was something like "Well, that totally depends on like fourteen different factors and how we define 'justified', 'impose', and 'democracy'." The producer told me before the show to figure out some way of justifying a Yes answer, and I did so by saying that the question sounded to me like a reformulation of "Does the end justify the means?", and that the end of democracy and the rule of law justified a whole lot of means, some of which aren't too pretty. The woman, named Anna, who was my counterpart, was very emotional and the whole thing turned into a slanging match; she is a nice person (I talked to her before and after the show) but a total Third Worldist and so impossible to argue with. She has few facts and a lot of high-minded ideals--nothing wrong with that, we need the idealists among us, but it's better if they don't influence public policy too much until like 100 years after they're dead--and made a couple of statements that were blatantly false about civil liberties in the United States. Still, it went all right; Cuní told us it made excellent television, and generated a lot of calls and e-mails, a couple of which were actually favorable to my position. Helena García was very pleasant. Some guy on the street this afternoon said, "Hey, you were that guy on TV this morning." I asked him what he thought and he said he hadn't really been listening to it. Great. Oh, well. Let's see if I can parlay this into a spot on "Gran Hermano VIP".

I'm not sure if they have it up on Televisió de Catalunya's website or not. I couldn't figure it out, though apparently you could have listened to it live.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Here's a piece from The Times by Matthew Parris. It's in italics. My comments are in regular type.

Ignore the vanity of the Bushites, America's might is draining away

What kind of headline is that? Exactly how are Mr. Bush and his followers "vain"? "Vain", to me, means "overly pleased with oneself". If Mr. Bush's inaugural speech was any guide, America and her allies have an awful lot of very hard work to do before we can claim victory over tyranny, and Bush knows it and quite clearly said so.

WHAT TIME is it for America? If the Boston Tea Party was first light and the Gettysburg Address dawn, where between the sunrise and sunset of empire is the United States now? To judge from his inauguration speech on Thursday, President Bush thinks it is about time for morning coffee: much to be proud of but big tasks — maybe the proudest of all — still ahead. To end tyranny on Earth is no small ambition.

That's a little more like it, but I do not think that Bush was preening. I think his point was that America should participate with the rest of humanity in our common goal of freedom around the world, but that we don't do this out of a sense of pride but from a sense of duty.

Gerard Baker, the US editor of The Times, (“Don’t believe the doubters: America’s decline and fall is a long way off yet”) strikes a slightly more sanguine note. “A presidential inauguration is a chance for America to remind the world who is boss,” he smiles, “to demonstrate that the United States is the inheritor not only of Greece’s glory, but of Rome’s reach” — but Gerard would not himself go so far: he shares American anxieties about the rise of the Asian superpowers. He is confident, though, there are tremendous reserves of energy and potential still bubbling beneath the surface. “I would not bet on America’s eclipse just yet,” he concludes. For his America, I guess, it is around lunch. An afternoon’s work is still ahead.

See, I don't think the United States needs to go around proving it's the boss, because, first, it isn't, and second, it is clearly the world's leading power. When your GDP is nine trillion dollars and your closest competitors are nowhere within sight, when your army is the only one in the world that can fight outside its local area (with the possible exceptions of Britain and Australia), and when you are allied to most of the other leading nations, you have nothing to prove to anyone. As for being the boss, there are lots of places from North Korea and Cuba to India and Indonesia passing through Iran, Russia, and most of sub-Saharan Africa that do just as they please with little or no American interference.

I think it’s about half past four. For America-2005-Iraq, think of Britain-1899-Boer War. Ever-heavier burdens are being loaded upon a nation whose economic legs are growing shaky, whose hegemony is being taunted and whose sense of world mission may be faltering. “Overcommitted?” is the whisper.

How does one taunt a hegemony?

The comparison between the Boer War and Iraq makes no sense, since the Boers didn't go around invading their neighbors or supporting international terrorism. Also, the British had a much smaller competitive advantage over the Boers than the Americans have over the terrorists in Iraq, most of the Iraqi population is on the side of the new government while none of the Boers were on the side of the British, and the Boer War was a war of conquest while the Iraqi War is being fought precisely so we can go home and leave that part of the world in peace, in which it certainly was not before we went in there.

As for economic legs going shaky, GDP growth is at 5% on the year, the budget deficit is 2.9%, and unemployment, inflation, and interest rates are all comparatively very low. No comparison with 1900 Britain, which had already been caught and surpassed economically by Germany and the United States.

Sense of world mission? As far as we have one, which is attempting to spread freedom, it's not faltering at all. If it were faltering we wouldn't have sent two navy battle groups to help a country that has never been particularly friendly to us that had been struck by a natural disaster, and we wouldn't be in the process of crushing the terrorists on the ground in Iraq.

My feeling is that if the Gettysburg Address is dawn, then right now it's about eight-thirty AM or so.

Not that you would hear it in the din of drums and trumpets. More display is made in the spending of an inheritance than in its quiet accumulation, and the perfumed blossoms of July and August are heaviest after the nights have already begun to draw in. Like economic booms or summer solstices, empires have a habit of appearing at their most florid some time after their zenith has passed. Of the rise and fall of nations, history tends to find that the era of exuberance occurs when the underlying reasons for it are beginning to weaken. There is a time lag between success and swagger.

Huh? If I read this guy right what he's saying is that America is on the downhill slide. His evidence is that there is a din of drums and trumpets, whatever that has to do with anything--I am assuming he is referring to the Inauguration festivities, which cost a hell of a lot less money than your typical royal marriage that produces as heirs drunken louts who dress up as Nazis--, and that Americans are more exuberant than they should be. What dumb evidence. I personally don't notice a great deal of exuberance going on in the US; I think there's more of a feeling of challenge, and confidence that we can overcome it. I would not qualify this feeling, as Mr. Parris does, as "vanity" or "swagger".

“It was at Rome, on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind,” wrote Edward Gibbon in his autobiography. It was at Miami airport, on August 17, 2004, as I stood musing for two hours in the aliens queue for fingerprints, while contradictory instructions were aimed at confused passengers by incompetent officials (and two security men started body-searching each other) that the idea that for America the rot was setting in first started to my mind.

What exactly does a commonplace, rather silly experience in an airport have to do with Edward Gibbon, the author of "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"?

In more ways than were betrayed by the battle between Lycra and human flesh being waged across the massive bums of the women I saw, America 2005 is overstretched. The neoconservative Right dreams about the prospect of a big new US military intervention in Iran, or perhaps Syria, but who stops to ask whether Washington has the troops for such an adventure? The aim would have to be regime change, and that needs ground forces. Simply “taking out” Iranian nuclear installations from the air would enrage and reinforce Iran’s Islamist reactionaries, and scupper whatever pro-Western reformist movement there may be.

A) Notice that Mr. Parris cannot avoid making another lame Americans are fat joke. I suggest that he take a look at certain representatives of his own country's working class who spend a lot of time vacationing in Spain.

B) Nobody wants to go on an "adventure", as Mr. Parris puts it. The neoconservative Right does not want to go around invading everybody and his dog, as Mr. Parris would like us to think. Everybody knows that precisely the reason that we don't take out Iran or North Korea militarily is because it would be very difficult; if we could, we'd probably have already done so long since. Those places are just too big and far away, run by unpredictable crazies. As for Syria, taking out the Assad Baathist regime would not be an adventure, but a public service to humanity. No, we couldn't pull it off right now unless we really, really had to do it, but the fact that there are certain countries that the US has little influence over, and the fact that there are limits to American military reach, does not mean that the United States is in decline.

The invasion would have to take place at the same time as maintaining the occupation of Iraq. This shows no signs of reducing its call on American forces, materiel or money. The Pentagon’s efforts may even have to be stepped up after the Iraq election: this newspaper among many has called for unstinting and open-ended US commitment to Iraqi security. Whether or not you believed Tony Blair when he claimed that American Forces were in urgent need of help from our Black Watch Regiment before Christmas, you can see that as deaths mount and anarchy continues in Iraq, no US president can be thinking in terms of deploying troops away from that country for operations elsewhere.

Right, but who said the Americans were planning to invade any other country in the first place? If we had to, we could take a punch at North Korea or Iran and win. But we don't have to, so we're not even thinking of trying. It would cost way too much in blood and treasure. Being the world's leading power does not mean "we can kick anybody else's butt whenever and wherever we want", and it never has.

In 1995, 13.7 per cent of American troops were deployed abroad. Today it is some 27 per cent. America has more than 350,000 troops abroad. They are in (among other places) Ascension Island, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Diego Garcia, Djibouti, Egypt, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kosovo and South Korea. In at least a handful of these places it is fair to say that the country in question would collapse without them. I am no military analyst, but it seems reasonable to observe that in pursuit of US foreign and military policy, US defence forces are being pushed fairly hard. It is fanciful for the Left to fear, or the Right to hope, that at the flick of a switch President Bush can create large new arenas of American military engagement.

Well, duh, the reason more US troops are deployed overseas now than in 1995 is because we're fighting a ground war abroad now! The only places where the government would collapse if the Americans left are precisely Afghanistan and Iraq. And, let me repeat, the Right is simply not hoping that President Bush is going to turn loose the American military on somebody else. Yes, the Left fears it, but the Left is paranoid. Finally, the fact that the United States military is up against a challenge does not mean the country is in decline. We've faced a few pretty big challenges before, and this isn't much compared to, say, 1943.

And, worryingly from the longer-term point of view, many of the more significant commitments among that list look like stalemates from the military point of view. No realistic president should see reason to hope that “mission accomplished” can soon be declared in the Balkans, Afghanistan or Iraq. America (and often Britain) is bogged down in such places.

Wait a minute. There's no combat in the Balkans. There's very little combat in Afghanistan. How can we be "bogged down" there? There's plenty of combat in Iraq but we're winning, not getting bogged down. And the fact is that we are not alone; the British and Australians and many other countries are beside us.

At the same time, I sense, America’s need for brute force as a substitute for moral suasion may be increasing. Mr Bush said “freedom” 27 times in his speech. John F. Kennedy could be more sparing with the word because the idea behind it shone so brightly for America then, and for the world. Across Africa in the past century, US foreign policy goals, which included the peaceful dissolution of the British Empire, were advanced without the firing of a shot — or the expenditure of more than the few dollars needed to fund American propaganda. Arguments are cheap, and America had the best arguments, the best visions, and the best tunes.

What? This guy has gone completely off the rails; this piece is the punditic equivalent of the Wreck of the Old 97. What the hell does the disaster of decolonization in Africa have to do with anything? Africa has never been higher than about 19th on the American list of priorities. We had to fire a lot of shots in a lot of places between 1945 and 2005 in pursuit of our foreign policy goals, and we did not achieve all of them.

Deservedly or undeservedly, America has lost the tune. Just as happened for Britain during the Boer War, something has gone unaccountably off-key. We British won that South African war in the end by sheer, bloody force; and America will not be “defeated” in Iraq, or, I suppose, anywhere else. But as armaments are increasingly substituted for arguments, the strain grows. Eventually fatigue sets in.

Whoa! That's catchy! "Fewer armaments, more arguments." Rather Jacksonesque, either Jesse or Michael. That would fit real neatly on a poster that you could then bring to a demo. Well, your typical demo-attender would write "Less armaments", but you know what I mean. And, Mr. Parris, why the scare quotes around "defeated"? Are you insinuating that we've already suffered a moral defeat? I don't think so, what with the reelection of President Bush with an absolute majority of the votes. And Mr. Parris, in the end, has to admit that the US will not lose in Iraq or anywhere else. So then how exactly is the US in decline if it's going to win all its conflicts?

There is a notion, as beloved of the European Left as of the yee-hah Right, that America’s pocket is bottomless, its Armed Forces countless, its weaponry infinite, and the only possible constraint upon its Government is the will of the people. Europeans speak as though for Washington cost is just not a consideration. This is not true of any empire or nation and has never been true of America; but it is less true today than at any time since the end of the Second World War.

Note the comparison Mr. Parris draws between the European Left, which he does not qualify with a neat turn of phrase such as "constantly sniffing in their armpits but can't decide whether it's garlic, goat cheese, or just no bath for five days," and the "yee-hah" Right, which Mr. Parris gets wrong (it's "yee-haw"). And, yes, Mr Parris is right when he says the European Left imagines America is omnipotent. This is their basic argument: America is all-powerful. Nothing happens without America's consent. Sometimes bad things happen. America must have consented to them or they wouldn't have happened. Therefore America is bad.

And I would argue that the United States is a lot better off today, as far as relative strength goes, than during the period between 1945 and 1989. During all of that era there was something called the USSR which was a very mean and nasty government. We were all afraid Russia would drop huge bombs on us, or, even worse, threaten to use huge bombs on us if we didn't give them what they wanted. An awful lot of people during those 45 years thought that America was finished and that the USSR was going to come out on top. Fortunately, that didn't happen. And it amazes me that people like Mr. Parris compare the pinprick of the Iraq war to the blade of the guillotine that a nuclear war would have meant.

For the truth is that the US is in relentless relative decline as an economic power in the world. The years after the Second World War (the years of the Marshall Plan), when the economies of most of its competitors had been wrecked while its own was growing strongly — were the noontide of American muscle. The Cold War, because its central narrative was that of a mortal threat from a Soviet giant of equal power, diminished the appearance of American strength, but the narrative was false. The collapse of the rival giant has exaggerated America’s apparent strength because it has so much more economic muscle than any single rival.

Of course we're in relative decline if you compare the US's status today with the US's status in 1945. That was because in 1945 we had the only functioning economy in the world. But, economically, the US is actually storming ahead much more rapidly than Europe is. We are still the innovators and there is no sign that we will stop being so anytime soon. And, since there's no real competition for the US in its role of world's leading nation, nobody is exaggerating America's strength except the paranoids on the European left.

But for many decades America’s share of the world’s economic output has been in decline. Think of a see-saw. America at one end is now easily outweighed by any substantial grouping at the other, and most of those powers are on friendly terms with each other. America’s modesty in 1945 understated its muscle, just as Bushite vanity overstates it today. He has over-reached. His country is overstretched, losing economic momentum, losing world leadership, and losing the philosophical plot. America is running into the sand.

That entire paragraph could be summed up as: "I would like to believe that the United States is weak. I will therefore reuse some lame metaphors to make it look like I have a case rather than, say, stating some facts. In addition, I do not like Bush personally so I will call him "vain" again." Thanks, Mr. Parris, for your opinion. We'll call you next time next time we want to hear it.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Check out this closing paragraph from an article in FrontPage; it's a review of a book on the history of anti-Americanism.

In a series of persuasive chapters, the Rubins describe anti-Americanism as it metastasized first throughout Latin America and then the Middle East, where it has acquired new state sponsors who use it to shift blame for the failures of Islamic societies to come to terms with modernity. The Rubins find that “third world” intellectuals have generally adapted old anti-American themes to the new circumstances of the post Cold War order. It is worth noting that the authors fail to discuss the emergence since the Vietnam War of American anti-Americanism, a disconcerting yet pervasive aspect of our contemporary intellectual life. It is however, a phenomenon which could be easily explained within the intellectual framework the Rubins adopt. Nevertheless, Hating America is an otherwise comprehensive guide to the development and spread of yet another paranoid ideology—one they note bears a disquieting similarity to anti-Semitism, its ancient and evil sibling.

Now go read the whole thing. Here's the URL:
My celebrity status keeps growing; they want me back on Josep Cuní's show on TV3 at around 10 AM Monday morning. The topic is apparently going to be Bush's inaugural address and prospects for the second term. They told me they could not find one other American in town willing to defend Bush. So, anyway, tune in and we'll see how it goes.

If you want to listen to yesterday's radio program, here's the URL:

Click down at the bottom right on "Programa del 20 gener" and see if you can figure out how it works, because I can't.

My reaction to Bush's speech, by the way, is pretty much my reaction to all speeches. I don't put much stock in them. I don't think Bush told us anything new in his address, and I am not moved by mere language, no matter how much I support freedom, democracy, etc. etc. I am moved by action, and among recent actions I approve of are the response by the Navy to the tsunami, the prospect of upcoming real elections in Iraq (which won't be perfect but which will be a hell of a lot better than anything in the previous history of Mesopotamia going back to the Sumerians in 4000 BC), the fighting of terror on the ground in Iraq, the steady constant improvements in Iraq that Arthur Chrenkoff publicizes--at his blog and in the Wall Street Journal--every couple of weeks, the American role in the Ukraine electoral process, and the strengthening of international relations with countries around the world (especially India, Poland, the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Great Britain, Thailand, Colombia, and so many more places outside the Frog-Toad Axis).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

One of the themes that was mentioned several times on the radio discussion program this afternoon was how polarized America was and how there was this enormous chasm between the right and the left, between Republicans and Democrats, between red-staters and blue-staters, and so on. I don't buy it; I think despite leftist agitation (and a little bit of right-wing agitation too, but not as much, or at least not so blatantly false and hypocritical) the country is more or less solid. We're not anywhere near civil war, let's just put it that way.

Here are some results from the latest CNN / USA Today / Gallup poll, not notoriously a front for the Lyndon LaRouchies and David Dukes out there. They polled about 1000 adult Americans with a margin of error of plus-minus three percent.

Fifty-one percent of respondents said Bush's policies will move the country in the right direction.

Fifty-two percent said he will be an outstanding or above average president in his second term...

Seventy-three percent of respondents said Bush would improve security, 68 percent said he will keep the country safe from terrorism and 62 percent said he will keep the United States prosperous.

In his next four years, 58 percent said Bush would improve education and 57 percent say he will improve moral values.

Fifty-three percent said they believe the country will be better off in four years than it is now...56 percent see him as a strong leader who is honest and trustworthy.

Fifty-six percent say they have confidence he will use military force wisely...(T)he number of Americans who have confidence in his ability to handle an international crisis (was) 64 percent.
I am going to be on Silvia Coppulo's radio program on COM Radio between 5 and 6 PM this afternoon; it appears that this will be a serious discussion of the Bush presidency. Among the other guests are the X-Man, some guy from the Kerry campaign in Spain (?), and some guy from the US Embassy. So tune in. I'll tell you how it went.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

You know, my reaction to the sainthood of Martin Luther King is not real positive. Let's start by saying what we have to give King credit for: He was one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, definitely the most charismatic of them; he showed real courage the several times he confronted racist Southern police; and he always condemned violence no matter who committed it. Now, those actions show King to have been right.

If he hadn't been assassinated, though, and reached the status of martyr, he'd likely still be alive today, and we might today think of King as we think of, say, Ralph Abernathy, someone we admire but who hasn't been elevated to sainthood. I've never thought, for example, that King was particularly eloquent; the "I Have a Dream" speech is the same early '60s idealistic twaddle of "Blowin' in the Wind". As for King's personal behavior, saints should be, if not saintly, at least above routine suspicion. King was a womanizer and he plagiarized his dissertation. He also diluted the strength of his appeal by giving his support to non-civil-rights related causes of the time, especially his opposition to the Vietnam War; you'll remember that when King was shot, he was in Memphis to support a striking union.

Here's a what if: what if King had lived? He'd likely have continued on as he was, as a major leader in civil rights organizations. I doubt he'd have gone into elective politics, though Jimmy Carter would have offered him a Cabinet post, I'm sure. And I'll just bet that along about 1984-1992, when the PC (Pre-Clinton) sexual harassment wing of the feminists was raging and Clarence Thomas was being grilled on whether he'd left a pubic hair on a Coke can, somebody would have outed him. The extreme feminists would have loved showing Nobel Prize-winner King up as an example of the stereotype of the "typical man" they were pushing.

Here's another what if: what if King had swung to the Right as he got older and times changed? I don't see King having much truck with abortion or gay liberation, and I don't think he was much of a feminist, either. I also don't think he was a big fan of the Soviets, though he was a pacifist. Remember, King was a Baptist, and he was socially conservative. He might well have joined the "family values" crowd on some issues, while remaining on the left regarding socioeconomic policies.

Here's one more what if: what are the odds that some other racist redneck like James Earl Ray would have popped King a few years down the road, assuming he somehow survived or never went to Memphis?

I dunno. Significant assassinations or assassination attempts: 1963, JFK; 1968, RFK and King; 1972, Wallace; 1976, Ford twice; 1980, Reagan. Other significant public violence: 1967-71 rioting; 1970 Kent State; 1971 Attica. I bet if King had survived until about 1974, nobody would have tried to shoot him after that. The last three assassins, those who tried to kill Ford and Reagan, were nuts, unlike Ray, who apparently volunteered as triggerman as part of a small conspiracy that most likely included at least one of Ray's brothers and a St. Louis moneyman, who financed Ray's escape to Europe.
Here's an interview with Georges Malbrunot, one of the French journalists kidnapped in Iraq and held for several months, from FrontPage. Go read it all for an inside look at the way the European media thinks and how it presents the news to us.

Note Malbrunot's continued insistence that the Americans are incompetent uncultured cowboys and the French know better because they have more experience and are more subtle. He can't give any concrete examples, of course, except maybe that the French are a lot better at torture and massacre because they learned it in Algeria. Note Malbrunot's opinion that the real cause of all problems in the Middle East is Israel, and that there is a moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies. Also note Malbrunot's emphasis on the importance of humiliation as a motivation, and even a justification, for terrorism. Finally, note Malbrunot's harsh criticism of the performance of the US military in Iraq.

One point he makes that's worth making is that there seem to be several different factions making up the Iraqi terrorist insurgency. Some of them are leftover Baathists and Arab nationalist/fascists from the Saddam days, and some are Al Qaeda extremist Muslims, both foreigners and native Iraqis. Malbrunot says that the nativist Iraqi extremist Muslims were held down under Saddam and that they have only now emerged since Saddam's repression stopped.
Our friends the ETA, masters of dialogue and negotiations, let off a car bomb in an expensive neighborhood in Getxo near Bilbao, loaded with 40 kilos of explosives. This is the largest explosion they've set off for a while and the first car bomb in 18 months. They phoned in a warning; no one was hurt except one of the cops who was cordoning off the area, and his wounds were minor. Asshole Arnaldo Otegi, assassin-in-chief of ETA's political wing, said just four hours before that the Basque Country "was not in a peace process". Well, duh. Peace is sort of hard when there's a terrorist gang going around constantly breaking it, even though there means are now very limited.

Congratulations to the Aznar government and to the security forces for doing such a good job crushing ETA through legal police and judicial methods (in contrast with Felipe González's Socialists, which used death squads) between 1996 and 2004; ETA is reduced to maybe only one operating cell, and these guys ought to be easy to catch because they carjacked the vehicle they used to make the car bomb. That means they left evidence all over the place and an eyewitness.

Again, ETA is just not quite nasty and brutal and nihilistic enough in these days of fanatical fundamentalist Muslim and extreme nationalist Arab take-no-prisoners terrorism; the etarras didn't kill the guy they carjacked, they just tied him up, and they did call in a warning before the bomb went off. Those are fatal weaknesses. These guys are going down.

The Retch Plan is, of course, toast. There was no reason ever to take it seriously and especially not now. Retch has demanded a dialogue with Zap and Rajoy, which he is not going to get because there's no way Rajoy will talk to him and anyway Zap is the prime minister; it's Zap's job to deal with terrorism and Rajoy's job to be the loyal opposition. Rajoy, of course, is backing up Zap all the way on the terrorism question and Zap, at least, is standing firm on this one. Must give credit where credit is due, though the Wall Street Journal may have had a point when they claimed that Zap's weakness might have encouraged Retch to push him hard.

The Europeans are patting themselves on the back over the NASA-ESA probe to the Saturnian moon of Titan, which certainly has sent back a lot of useful information and some cool photographs, too, and over the presentation of the new Airbus A380 monster passenger jet. Zap said that these events should demonstrate "Europe's capacity to lead in creativity, innovation, science, and technology" and Schröder said something about how "good Old Europe" had produced this plane. Les French, of course, say that these successes are just evidence that Europe needs to work more closely together (under Frog-Toad leadership, of course) in order to foment unity and economic growth and employment and the bureaucratic state. Well, they didn't exactly say that, but it's close enough.

Now, I have nothing against Europe being proud of itself, and it's certainly participated in the Titan probe and managed to build what looks like a very successful airplane. But you don't notice the Americans jumping up and down because they also participated in the Titan probe and because Boeing has also come out with what looks like a very successful new airplane. (By the way, part of the wing apparatus on the new Airbus was manufactured by General Electric Belgium, and the motors and landing gear were manufactured by Rolls-Royce, an Anglo-American outfit.)

The death toll is up 55% in Barcelona because of the flu; the norm this time of year would be 350 deaths a week in the city, while during the week that ended January 9 there were 510 and during the week that ended the 16th there were 550. In the rest of Barcelona province, outside the city limits, the death toll is up 30%, from about 260 to about 340. Emergency rooms are overloaded, attending 8000 to 10,000 people a day. There are not enough hospital beds, they're running out of blood at the Hospital Clínico and have called for donations, and non-emergency operations will probably be postponed.

In soccer news, there have been no racist incidents this week! Barcelona played a poor game last Sunday but managed to beat Real Sociedad at home, 1-0, on a header by Etoo. Etoo had blown a penalty kick (on a questionable ref's whistle) very early in the game. Barcelona had difficulty setting up combinations and playing the intricate passing game they like so much due to the constant pressure of the Real Sociedad players, who limited themselves to defending their half of the pitch and turning loose the occasional counterattack.

Barcelona maintains its seven-point lead over Real Madrid, while Espanyol, the city's other team, is quietly putting together an excellent season. They are currently in fourth place, right on the tail of Madrid and Valencia, and have a goal average that is considerably superior to those of the 15 teams behind them. What the high goal average means is that Espanyol beats a lot of teams convincingly. If you win most of your games by a close margin, that indicates you're having a lucky year, since close games are often decided by one play. If you win most of your games with ease, it means you're not only lucky, you're good.

Another team to watch for, by the way, is Villarreal, whose goal-average is better than their position in the standings, and whose star players (Riquelme, Forlán, and young goalkeeper Pepe Reina) are having breakout years. Watch for Riquelme to move to a much better team in some other league next year; Barcelona owns him (he's on loan to Villarreal), but he just doesn't fit into Rijkaard's team. They can't use him, but they'll be able to sell him for a lot of dough to somebody in Italy, England, or Germany after the season he's putting together this year.

As far as spending dough, they've decided to buy Albertini, the guy who played at AC Milan for a decade, from Atalanta in the Italian league as a fill-in at midfield. No illusions here; his job is to substitute for tired or hurt players until Edmilson, Gerard, Gabri, and Motta come back within the next 2-3 months. This guy is an old fox and can probably give you twenty decent minutes every week subbing at defensive midfielder or center defenseman. At forward, they want Iaquinta, a little-known Italian player from Udinese who I've frankly never heard of. He's apparently pretty good and still young, 25 years old, so he's got some future, which everybody knows Albertini hasn't. Udinese is trying to jack up the price but the Barça is holding firm at six million euros. If that falls through it looks like it's Carew for five million from Besitkas or nobody. They do not want to reclaim Javier Saviola from Monaco.

How much do you want to bet it's Philadelphia and New England in the Super Bowl? I don't see Atlanta beating Philly, especially not in Philadelphia, and the Steelers are a fine team but they're playing in Foxboro with a rookie QB against Tom Brady and the Above-Average Guys coached by the NFL's Current Reigning Genius, Bill Belicheck. (That is, three reasons the Patriots are so good is they don't have any huge superstars, but all their players do their own jobs and more, they're all smart enough to listen to their coach, and they all have confidence in their not-a-great-athlete-but-smart-and-tough two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback.)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Franco Aleman links to an excellent post by Fausta on Arturo Pérez-Reverte and just exactly how, well, small, puny, shriveled, limp, and pathetic a prick he is. More anti-Semitism out the wazoo here.

I am honestly convinced most Spaniards are mildly-to-virulently anti-Semitic, mostly not because they thought it up themselves but because Spanish culture is suspicious of Jews. It is. No denying it. Even the Catalans. Maybe especially the Catalans, what with the glorious tradition of Sant Vicenç Ferrer. I mean, they're paranoid enough about Protestants already, and Jews are like ten times as weird and unknown. It is not unusual for people who should know better to make cracks about Jews being unjustly wealthy or unduly influential or innate conspirators around here, and it is not at all rare for Americans to be asked how come they let the Jews run the banks and Wall Street and Hollywood and sometimes the government. Israel tends to receive the brunt of Spanish anti-Semitism; I would estimate that 90% of the Spanish population is hostile toward Israel, which leads them to be sympathetic to the Palestinians' propaganda version of their cause, which leads them to tolerate terrorism in Israel which they certainly wouldn't tolerate in Zarautz or Rentería. I assume that part of the reason for Spanish suspicion of Jews is that there have been extremely few of them here since the Inquisition got going around 1503 or so; there are only a few thousand Jews in Spain today and unfortunately several of the best-known, like the Koplowitz sisters, are in fact quite wealthy. This only adds to the stereotype, of course, since there are very few working-class Jews in Spain.
Regarding the Retch Plan, Zap and Retch had a talk and Zap told Retch that under no circumstances was this so-called plan going anywhere. The Catalan nationalist parties are being dickheads about the whole thing. The PP and the Socialists are forming a united front against any exalted Basquetballs who actually think this thing is going anywhere. The Republican Left has threatened to pull its support from the Tripartit (SocioCommunistCataloonies), which would leave the central government in Madrid, the regional government in Catalonia, and the city council of Barcelona in shambles; probably if they actually pulled out new elections would eventually have to be called. Maragall has actually been somewhat responsible and said through a whole bunch of Maragallian typical argle-bargle about the role of the city in articulating the organic structure of something or another that he thought the Retch Plan was bogus and that wasn't anything he was going to go along with.

In Franco Aleman's comments section over at Barcepundit somebody posted the complete text of the Economist's story on this whole flapdoodle, so go check it out.

A big deal is being made over the so-called "torture memo" over here. I don't see what the big deal is, personally. Seems to me that what Alberto Gonzales did was give a legal opinion on what constitutes torture and what doesn't, and that we can't do stuff that constitutes torture. As for rough interrogation techniques, I'd follow the general guideline that if you wouldn't do it to your own soldiers as part of training or to suspected criminals of your own nationality, you can't do it to the enemy even if they are scumball dirtbags who we could perfectly well take out and shoot under international law as unlawful bearers of arms. This means that sleep deprivation and listening to "Enter Sandman" over and over and scaring the crap out of them is legit if done for a good reason, like trying to get necessary information about terrorist activities. It would of course not be legit if done just for fun.

Maybe not enough of a big deal is being made about the Abu Ghraib trials. I think it's become clear that the Abu Ghraib tortures and abuses were not the result of any kind of military policy but instead the work of a unit gone bad under poor discipline and with dirtbags for NCOs. The strict punishment, ten years in jail for the pervert-in-chief, shows the Army means business when it says it won't tolerate abuse. Now the guy has to serve the ten years, of course. This doesn't clean up the good name we lost at Abu Ghraib, but it goes partway there.

As for the lack of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, that means nothing. We know Saddam had them and we know he used them. What we don't know is how he got rid of them, but at this point who cares? He was an evil dictator who murdered his people, invaded his neighbors, and supported international terrorism. Now he's awaiting his date with a rope while what's left of his supporters are being wiped out on the ground. You know, I can perfectly well understand those who opposed attacking Iraq in the first place. What I don't understand are those who seem to want us to lose now that we're in it.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Here's one for you Cataloonies. In my free time I play this psychotic computer game called Europa Universalis II, which is sort of a combination of Risk, Diplomacy, Civilization, and Simcity, but historically based. You start in 1419. I am playing the Crown of Aragon, so I started out with Catalonia, Rousillon, Valencia, Aragón itself, the Balearics, Sardinia, and Sicily. What I did was simply not have Ferdinand of Aragon marry Isabella of Castile, but rather marry someone from the House of Savoy. Aragon was thus never absorbed into Castile, but rather grew connections with Southern France and Italy. In three wars with the French, we took over all of Southern France south of about Dijon, and all of Italy south of Bologna except Florence, which is not going to be independent for much longer, and Rome, where the Pope is our slave, effectively--we took over when we had the chance under the Borgias. We also hold Turin and French Switzerland around Geneva. We established a foreign empire first in what is today Quebec, New England, and the mid-Atlantic states, then Hispaniola, where we are growing sugar out the wazoo with slave labor, then what is today South Africa, and then the southern tip of India. Right now it's 1741 and the game ends in 1819. Next stop is the conquest of Florence and then Genoa, and then we're going to take a whack at the Ottoman Empire and grab their islands in the Mediterranean (Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes, Corfu) and their trading posts along the coasts of India and East Africa--and the Greek-speaking parts along the Turkish coast, like Smyrna and Aleppo. Then, after that, we'll take a whack at the Hapsburgs and run them out of Milan and Venice. By then that ought to be the end of the game.

So we're running a multinational Mediterranean empire with the capital at Barcelona and tentacles sticking out all over the world. (We've built a couple of spectacular cathedrals and a great university at Barcelona, too, along with an armaments factory in Zaragoza and a distillery at Valencia, from where we traffic in brandy all over Europe.) By the way, we haven't had to fight Castile or Portugal at all; we've had a military alliance since the beginning of the game which none of us has ever broken. Castile did take over Navarra but we let them have it. Visca el Imperi Català!

My favorite Europa Universalis comment on the bulletin board the company runs is this one 17-year-old kid somewhere in the States who commented that since he got into the game, they put him in AP European History in his high school because he'd learned so much about 16th century European warfare and economy.

(AP, Advanced Placement, are high-school courses that allow you to take a test and get college credit for what you studied in high school assuming you pass. They're pretty elitist--only about 10% or so of the students in a good high school qualify. It's something like the old A-levels in England--the tests are pretty goddamn hard, they're run by the people who run the SAT, and they're graded on a 200-800 scale like the SAT. I scored 800 on the AP European history exam in 1984, along with scores over 700 in English literature and American history. I'm so cool. One of the choices for the essay question that year was a compare-and-contrast of Goya's Los fusilados and Picasso's Guernica, which I belted out of the park. I got lucky on the English lit essay, too, where one of the choices was Siegfried Sassoon's war poetry, another one for the bleacher seats.)
Soccer racism update: Ajax Amsterdam (like Tottenham Hotspur of London) is known for having many Jews among its supporters. The supporters of Ajax's opponents in civilized Holland chant "Hamas, Hamas, send the Jews to the gas".

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The talk all over the place here in Spain is what's going to happen with the Retch Plan. If you haven't been keeping up, the Basque Parliament approved Basque Prime Minister Juan José Ibarretxe's plan to hold a referendum on Basque "self-determination", whatever Woodrow Wilson meant by that. The vote passed with the support of Herri Batasuna, the ETA's political branch. Supposedly, if Ibarretxe's plan for the Basque Country ever comes into effect, the result will then be a hypernationalist enclave within Spain with effective Home Rule, including the right to discriminate against non-Basque nationalists (since a Basque "nationality" will be created, and some people obviously won't want to be part of that). Note: for more information fill something like "ibarretxe plan" into the Search box above; we've talked about this before in greater detail.

I don't think it's going to happen. 1) The Basque Parliament does not have the Constitutional right to call a binding referendum. Any referendum they call will be totally meaningless and have no legal effect. 2) The Spanish Parliament will massively vote down the Retch Plan anyway, so nothing in it will go into legal effect. 3) The Tribunal Constitucional will declare the Retch Plan unconstitutional if it ever gets that far. 4) Should Ibarretxe actually call a referendum, its results will have no meaning to anyone except the radical Basque nationalists, who will claim a moral victory for their cause. I imagine that if Ibarretxe does call a meaningless referendum, the Spanish government will not do anything to interfere just so they can't be accused of suppressing democracy or anything like that. The referendum will go to the polls in the Basque Country with the support of the Basque autonomous government, it will be massively boycotted, and "self-determination" will win. So what? The vote's non-binding. Now, if the Basque autonomous government actually begins taking the steps of the Retch Plan that the referendum will supposedly approve, they will be legally invalid and unenforceable. If the Basque government should then actually go so far as to use force to impose the aforesaid Plan, that's when we send in the Guardia Civil to arrest the lot of them and damn the consequences, they can't do that, that's open armed rebellion and it has to be crushed with force. I will personally bet one bajillion dollars that it does not go this far, however.

Part of the problem with language in Spain is that languages have at least two purposes. The first, of course, is communication. The second is as a sign of identity. What goes on around here is a lot of people think Purpose Number Two is more important than Purpose Number One, which I think is totally bassackward. Purpose Number Two people are frequently known around here as Spainiacs, Cataloonies, and Basquetballs (everything they say is complete balls).

I am, frankly, a believer in the free market of languages. Purpose Number One people, among whom I count myself, learn the languages we need to communicate. Of course it helps me enormously to be a native educated speaker of English; that's one less thing I have to worry about. Living here in Barcelona, I need to know Spanish. I can't get along at anything higher than a tourist level if I don't. Catalan, frankly, comes after Spanish for me, because everyone who speaks Catalan can also speak Spanish. However, it's useful to know and if you know Spanish you can pick up understanding Catalan and speaking a little without much trouble. I haven't made much of an effort with Catalan because I quite frankly really don't need to. I can speak enough to get by and of course I read and understand it fluently. I never write it; I have no reason to. As for French, I can read it, and I can speak enough for tourism purposes and a little more; same with Italian, though my spoken Italian is even worse than my spoken French except for the accent. There's no reason for me to put forth any more effort. Were I to move to France or Italy, of course, I would immediately embark on crash learning of that language, as I would then need it very badly.

Some of my thinking is no doubt standard American, though I will point out that the language I use most every day (Spanish) is not my personal identity language and that doesn't bother me in the least. Still, though most non-immigrant Americans don't know foreign languages at all, most Yanks aren't too hung up on language. There are always a few people looking for conflict (unfortunately I think Victor Davis Hanson, who I admire so much on other issues, is one of them), but we don't have a national language and in many places in the States languages besides English are used. Nobody seems to much care as long as we can understand one another.

Here's an example of Purpose Number Two thinking in today's La Vanguardia. In the Catalan Parliament they're talking about a new regional government constitution called the Estatut d'Autonomia. Among other things, if this version of the Estatut goes anywhere, 1) Catalans will have the "duty" to know Catalan 2) All products sold in Catalonia will have to be labeled in Catalan 3) Every citizen will be allowed to demand that he be served in the language he chooses--it doesn't specify whether this is by the government only or by private business as well.

Well, I don't think anyone has the "duty" to know any language unless his job requires him to, and the language(s) that the job demands ought to be clear to both the employer and the worker as part of the original agreement between the two. Labelling products sold in Catalonia in Catalan is just fine if a company wants to do so, but requiring it is ridiculous because everyone who can read Catalan can also read Spanish. And who's going to make Mahmoud the Pakistani attend his clients at his corner shop in Catalan? Come on. Be serious. If there's something in it for Mahmoud--for example, he can communicate better with his suppliers or his clients if he learns Catalan, or he feels more integrated into local society because he knows Catalan, or he discovers some authors in Catalan in which he has an interest, or he wants to understand what Carod-Rovira is raving on about--then he'll learn it of his own free will. If there's not, he won't. And, right now, there's not much in it for Mahmoud. He'd be much better served improving his Spanish, the language that all his clients and suppliers know, rather than Catalan, which is used preferentially by only some of them.

One thing that some Cataloonies are being real dicks about is their demand that people from other parts of Spain be legally obligated to give them service in Catalan if they're doing business here in Catalonia. This pisses off non-Catalans no end, and justifiably so, since what kind of a doofus buying products from a company based in Albacete is going to demand to be served in Catalan? Well, a few Cataloonies, that's who. Here's an apposite letter from today's Vangua; it's from a guy named Manuel Romana from Madrid. He is responding to a demand by another letter-writer, Albert Bastardas--yes, that's a real surname here--that non-Catalans should have to just deal with whatever the most extreme Cataloonies want.

Regarding Albert Bastardas's letter, I wanted to add a personal experience: several years ago I had to send some papers to the Basque Country. I had them in two different versions, and the better one was in Catalan. In Bilbao this was not well-received, because Catalan was a strange language for them, but not for me (I live in Madrid but I work in all of Spain). That's all my experience. I have not yet had the opportunity to send a text in Basque to a Catalan company, but that day will come.

Has Albert Bastardas thought that one day they might send him a document at the University of Barcelona in Basque, and it would be his obligation to understand it or translate it at his expense? I'm sure he hasn't because what he wants is that other people be asked to understand him, and not the other way around.

Languages are a cultural blessing, and they must be preserved. But they don't all exist at the same level...I hope the day never comes when Eroski (a Basque supermarket chain) applies for a permit to the Sabadell City Council in Basque.

Manuel Romana, Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Here's the real inside dope on what's going down here in B-town...A little birdie told us that La Vanguardia's dashing Uselessman-About-Town, Josep María Casasús, has been spotted at several very in venues with Catalan television star Carmen de Mairena...Hey, that's just what we hear! Only the latest dish, straight from the bright lights of Barnaville!...You know, that Luis Aragonés fellow just keeps making friends! Wait, we can't repeat what he said here...Can't stop the music! David Hasselhoff and Ricky Martín...oops...wait...are we allowed to say that? What about Jesulín de Ubrique and, not that one either? Well, guess that's about it...
Right Wing News has an interview with Victor Davis Hanson; I thought the following exchange was worth quoting in full. Go read the whole piece.

John Hawkins: A related question – Europe and the U. S. do have a lot in common. We’re both Western civilizations. Many of our citizens emigrated from Europe at one point or another in time. We fought in many of the same wars. Yet, we’re so puzzlingly far apart on basic issues like the war on terrorism, Israel and Palestine, & the use of military force. Why do you think Europeans and Americans seem to have such a dissimilar view of the world these days?

Victor Davis Hanson: I wish it was because of issues that divide us on principle, but I’m afraid a lot of it has to do with the absence of 300 Soviet divisions. During the Cold War, the U.S. subsidized the defense of Europe and it kept Russia from going in and doing to Western Europe what it had done to Eastern Europe.

With the demise of the Berlin Wall, the Europeans immediately began to follow up on their socialist utopia. They not only increased social spending, but they cut defense because they were just convinced that the danger was over with. They thought that all of these nukes, all of these divisions, all of these tanks and planes that the U. S. had stationed and protected them were, kind of, if not our fault, at least we were as culpable as the Soviet Union. Now it was the time to let European soft power, money in the U. N., these international bodies, & the EU, adjudicate trouble.

All of a sudden the U. S. says, you know, “Look at the 20th century, whether it’s Prussian militarism, Tojo, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin or Mao, there always seems to be a mass murderer that appears on the stage and every time there’s collective action proposed no one acts. It’s always the U. S. that acts and we’re not going to disarm even though we did cut back radically." Europe saw that as sort of, “Ohmigosh, these guys are retrograde, they’re Neanderthal, they’re going to pull the world back to the use of force,” and so the U. S., I guess, represents a stinging reminder of how weak they are and how the rest of the world does not operate on their premises and that bothers them a great deal.

The very emotional response with Europeans is almost like a child telling the parent, you know, “I can take care of myself, I want the world to work my way,” and then the parent says, you know, “Sorry, you’re on your own.” The child then gets angrier and angrier as he sees the world isn't up to their visions, a very puerile, immature view of the world.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Reliable sources in Barcelona today pointed out the eerie physical similarity between La Vanguardia's Uselessman, Josep María Casasús, and Catalan pop superstar Josmar. It is widely rumored here that they are one and the same person with two different identities. Said Anna, a Barcelona resident, "Boy, those guys sure do look alike. And another thing, have you ever seen them both in the same place, except maybe for the Blue Box?"
Update on soccer racism: Sunday, as Atlético de Madrid was losing at home 0-3 to Real Madrid, the crowd broke into racist "monkey" chants directed at Real's Brazilian defenseman Roberto Carlos. In the 83rd minute the referee directed Atlético's on-field representative to announce over the stadium PA system that the racist chants should stop; they only increased, of course. Atlético's response, rather than, say, apologizing and taking steps to see that this doesn't happen again, was to justify their fans' behavior on the ground that Roberto Carlos had taunted the Frente Atlético, where most of the racist bullshit probably originated. La Vanguardia's take on the story is not "this is a disgrace" so much as "this is one more black eye for Madrid's Olympic Games candidacy".

Meanwhile, on Dec. 12, 2004, Barcelona's Cameroonian forward, Etoo, received racist abuse from the fans during a game at Albacete. The Albacete club was fined, get this, 600 euros by the League, which was reduced to 300 on appeal. People, this is not the sort of fine that's going to make the clubs do something to root this out. No action has been taken by the League regarding racist abuse of Etoo in Getafe on November 28 and of Roberto Carlos in Barcelona's Camp Nou on November 20.

Takling about an absolute disgrace, the UE and its member countries have restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and the Castroites are crowing victory. The EU broke off relations with Cuba in June 2003 after 75 dissidents were jailed. 14 of those dissidents have been freed. Gee, this only leaves 61 innocent political prisoners in Castro's mini-Gulag, so we'd all better hurry up to plant a big fat smooch on his ass.

Iberian Notes's official response to the CBS News scandal:

1. They were out to get Bush. Mary Mapes's E-mails are damning.
2. Both the documents and the allegations are bogus. It is not true that Bush got in the Air National Guard through family pull, it is not true that there was a waiting list to get into the Guard, it is not true that Bush committed any infractions during his Guard service, it is true that Bush served his full six years, it is true that he was a fighter pilot who flew interceptions of Soviet planes, and it is true that Bush actually volunteered to go to Vietnam.
3. CBS was completely irresponsible in running the story. They broke just about every journalistic standard in the book. And their motivation was not so much to get a scoop but to damage Bush and possibly impede his re-election; they rushed the story through with minimal fact-checking and ran it in late September at the height of the Presidential campaign. Then their reaction of jumping to defend their story without even looking at the serious charges made against it was both incompetent and arrogant.
4. They, at the very least Mapes, were most likely in cahoots with elements of the Kerry campaign. Again, the e-mails are damning.
5. The blogosphere had something to do with this, though it was not the only nor even the primary factor. I think what happened was that a few bloggers got on the documents right away, made their case, and managed to get the word out to the right-wing sector of the media (that is, Fox, the talk shows, certain columnists) and to the Bush campaign. Then the snowball rolled.

The Vanguardia reprints parts of a Wall Street Journal piece on the Zap government. I quote, translating back from Spanish:

(Zap) is facing probably the worst political crisis since Spain restored democracy three decades ago...Zapatero must wake up to the challenge to Spain's existence caused by the Basques. This crisis can be resolved quickly and peacefully. But if the Spanish socialists try to compromise with Basque hard-line tactics, they will endanger not only the future of their country, but constitutional democracy in all of Europe...Spain needs strong leadership now. In both foreign and domestic policy in the last ten months Zapatero has inspired little confidence...(the Socialists' soft line) has evidently failed...(the Basques) have every right to ask for constitutional changes, but by constitutional means...the Basque nationalists are out on an extreme in Europe, willing to tolerate methods that democratically illegitimize their struggle...the Catalans are seeking similar goals to the Basques, but, differently, the Catalan nationalists respect the Constitution and reject violence...A four-vote majority in the Basque parliament does not give the Basque nationalists a green light to act by decree...For the good of all Spaniards, Madrid cannot let these local politicians hijack the Spanish Constitution. If it does, Spain as a country will be history.

I think the WSJ is being a little exaggerated here. There is absolutely no chance the Retch Plan will get past the Spanish Parliament, and if Retch calls a wildcat illegal referendum, it will be ignored as it will be invalid by definition. Also, saying "the Basques want this" or "the Catalans want that" is a false generalization, since at least half of the people in the Basque Country and Catalonia are not regional nationalists. Finally, there is one minority ultranationalist political party here in Catalonia, Esquerra Republicana, that is weak on Basque terrorism and doesn't have any respect for the Constitution. Fortunately they never get more than a few percent of the vote.

I will add that I think they are exactly correct in their assessment of Zap.